Saturday, July 18, 2009

Getting Inked

On Friday, Roger and I got matching tattoos in celebration of our fifth anniversary. We both got smallish ampersands on our wrists. Mine is white, in Baskerville Old Style, and on my right wrist. His is black, in Times New Roman, and on his left wrist. We both had very different experiences, so I'm going to review my own here for you.

We decided to go to Iron Butterfly, a tattoo parlor in our hometown. The website makes it look really creepy, but J.J. had recommended his artist, Chuk Hognell, and since Chuk had done an amazing job on J.J.'s, we decided we trusted him and came home. I'm glad we did, because he was very friendly, although he really, really didn't want to do my tattoo in white, and also hated that we were putting them on "upside down" on the wrists. I did really appreciate that he told me not to get it on my foot, because apparently it wears away in the spot I wanted it. To illustrate this, he showed me a picture of a worn away tattoo on a foot. He spelled everything out for me, was really easily accessible via email beforehand, and was generally a really great guy who obviously cares about what he's doing. If you're planning on having anything done, I'd definitely recommend him, although I believe he specializes in black, white, and grey tattoos.

Overall, the process was fairly painless, although some parts did sting a lot, and it lasted precisely six minutes. The feeling was definitely one of hot scratching, which I've heard a lot, and which was very true for me. Today, it's still a little swollen, and there's still some purple from the transfer on it, but it seems to be in pretty good shape. I told Chuk I'd go back to him if it fades completely and I decide to go over in a darker color, but I really wanted something very faint and personal, so we'll see how it goes.

I can't really attest to having anything large done, and we'd been talking about getting this tattoo for three years, so I'm pretty comfortable with having it be so permanent, but I'd say, if you're considering a tattoo, and are sure it's something that you want, go for it. The pain isn't so bad that I wouldn't do it again, and I'm actually really into having this permanent design on my skin. One day, I'm considering going back to get the outline of a flying pig, which is a symbol of hope in the face of impossibility to me, so obviously the experience was good enough to be thinking about repeating it sometime. The ampersand is, of course, a symbol of unity, and a reminder that we're all part of something larger than ourselves.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yinka Shonibare Retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum

I was fortunate enough to attend the member preview of the Brooklyn Museum's Yinka Shonibare retrospective back at the end of June. I was not sure what I thought then, and I left with questions and fortunate feelings that I was able to escape with only five or so mentionings of the ever so mythic and malleable word "identity." After seeing the show for a second time this past weekend, I think I am more settled on my thoughts. maybe. It may be pretentious. Sorry. Maybe.

I think the New York Times review is cogent in mentioning the fashioning of the mannequins with “African” textiles overdone in his Ĺ“uvre. It is obvious or, as the Times says, literal, in pieces like “Gallantry and Criminal Conversation” where the mannequins are bent over in small groups in sexual positions. Additionally, if there is an idea beyond the overwrought trope of “questioning identity and authenticity,” it was certainly not present in the catalog and write-ups. In fact, they only served to reiterate a conversation of “luxurious white 18th century vs. postcolonial black 21st century.” Most frustrating were the implications of Shonibare himself in the exhibition’s concluding documentary, where in speaking on the Fragonard re-appropriation, he (rather problematically) refers to the piece as a contrast between the luxury of the west/poverty of Africa. How deeply he feels this to be true can’t be for certain, but statements such as that are unfortunately the kinds of golden nuggets that the curators of the show seemed to latch onto.

I think there are strong undercurrents that were missed. Shonibare’s work presents interactions before inequalities. Rather than “African authenticity” (whatever that really means anyway), I think the fabrics dressed on headless mannequins are symbols for the past and the implications for history's future generations. Of course interactions must include ones that are racial and economic, but there is an unmentioned labor-intensive application that needs to be performed in this installation work.

The Fragonard piece is that application, I thought, for the viewer is forced to reconsider, among other things, the idea of voyeurism inherent in the original. The priest and husband figures are absent from the composition, with perhaps the viewer of Shonibare’s installation left to take their place. The piece is three dimensional, here, and a spectator is offered the unique opportunity to move from all angles. There is irony in some way, for we, like the male participants, are given a peeping gaze up the headless mannequin’s skirt. The entire original absorption of the piece is altered, and if anything, the interaction around “leisure” is assigned onto the person who is gazing upon it. It is in this way that we are able to place ourselves in history, understand ways to see the past, construct the otherwise class-less, race-less, headless.

The curators and writers of the exhibition catalog needed to press further into what lies behind the appearance of these brightly colored fabrics. Hierarchies may or may not be revealed through the fabric, and yes, cultural barriers may be stretched, but art criticism on Shonibare in general needs to ask for more, because in this show we were force fed a bit of the same sentiments over and over.

The piece (“Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play”) installed in the museum’s period rooms was sure nifty, though.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Typical Tuesday

At Roger and Kristin’s suggestion, I’ve decided to review a typical Tuesday at my office except today really isn’t a Typical Tuesday, any ol’ run-of-the-mill Tuesday. You might be wondering how this Tuesday differs from all the Tuesdays that came before it—from the coffee, the gchat, the bbm, the furtive online-article reading. I will tell you.

This morning started out a little different from most. I felt a cognizance at breakfast this morning—which fair, fair! was brought on by Kristin and Roger—of that fact that it’s my last Tuesday EVER here, at my very first job, at this office I’ve been coming to for five days a week since October first. (I understand that for some of you full-timers this probably doesn’t mean much but for me, it does.) Then there was lunch which was uncommonly good—a vegetable quesadilla and a cup of exquisite fresh-squeezed watermelonade from Butterfield Market (Lex. Between E. 77th and 78th.) And, perhaps, the most extraordinary thing to happen today was the secret email my boss sent to my coworkers, encouraging them to buy me some going-away gifts, which I will receive at my very own going-away party, this Thursday, July 14. As if all this wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary enough, at this precise moment, a meeting of our Board of Directors is beginning, which means a lot of Italian men (+ one woman) in suits are coming to the office. This also means that they are drinking Pellegrino and staring at some fresh-cut flowers.

So now I think you must be wondering how I feel on this not-so-typical Tuesday. Maybe you are expecting me to tell you that I feel a sense of excitement and possibility as I am almost three days away from never coming back to this box-with-not-enough-natural light, this box which I have felt entrapped by for 10 months. But, today, on this not-so-typical Tuesday I can’t say I feel those things. I am mostly just serene.

Monday, July 13, 2009


From the outside, Abistro doesn't look like much. But inside the inauspicious 154 Carlton Avenue entrance is a tiny, hip restaurant. We went on Saturday, and at a friend's suggestion, ordered Senegalese Fried Chicken.

This little dish had about a million flavors, and was perfectly cooked and spiced. The chicken comes layered on top of a pineapple-jasmine rice and kale, and is topped with "Senegalese salsa," which is, I think, a deconstruction of yassa, because it's a cold, limey onion sauce. The chicken isn't exactly what you'd expect fried chicken to be, but it is lightly breaded and fried, and while it was a tiny bit dry, the sauce (a creamy dijon) and "side dishes" more than made up for that. The salsa was a little spicey, which played perfectly off the very sweet rice and the perfectly cooked, perfectly flavored, perfectly perfect kale.

It is pricey ($23 for the fried chicken), but it is BYOB, so you can save some money there. I've heard that the (nonalcoholic) mixed drinks are fantastic, but we were trying to save a little money, so we didn't get any. The service was very good and everyone was very friendly, and the decor was stark. They played good, if loud, music and the whole thing made for a nice date.

The complexity of flavors was amazing, and I might list this as one of my Top Ten Meals, if I didn't have such a hard time with that sort of thing. I honestly believe that when I die, I will be greeted with a bowl of that kale in heaven.

A little nota bene: this isn't traditional Senegalese food in the least, and if you're searching for that, your best bets are Joloff or Africa Kine, both of which are fantastic if you like Senegalese cooking. Le Grand Dakar is also good, but slightly more fusion-y than Joloff or Africa Kine.